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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Original meaning "merry" in Merry Christmas

Spent 4 days in Branson seeing 6 Christmas shows. The show part was great; the Christmas part was dismal.  No carols! It was an Irving Berlin/Aaron Copeland Christmas.  So help me if I ever hear about “having a merry little Christmas” for the rest of the year.  All the while the girls come out dancing in costumes like wrapped gifts, showing a lot of leg.  Finally a country group said they were going to sing about the real meaning of Christmas and I thought, ‘hot dog! Here comes.’  Doggone, it didn’t.  They sang a medley of gospel songs like “Amen” and even there, no meaningful lyrics.  But the steel guitar guy put on a terrific solo. 

            I never realized we have become so PC secular. Oh, I’m probably wrong on my details.  They do sing Silent Night but only the first verse which goes over most people’s theological heads.  Ditto the first verse of ‘What Child Is This?’ No second verse which tells the Christian story.  They make an exception once in awhile by singing the first verse of ‘O Holy Night’ which does contain strong meaning but the exception seems like it’s only to allow the Big Singer to show off the wonderful finale with her Great Voice. 

            So I propose that if you are surrounded by Agnosticland which only wants to glory in Winter Wonderland, here’s how to respond.  Say this.  Do you realize that the Old English word “merry” as in Merry Christmas originally meant “being at peace spiritually.”  The song ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ alludes to this,”God rest ye merry gentlemen…to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray/ O tidings of comfort and joy!”  Merry Christmas meant being at peace with God, the Prince of Peace.”  Hence the Pilgrims, rather stern believers, didn’t believe in feasts and rabble rousing. They practiced fasting and meditation and repentance and watchfulness the 4 weeks before Christmas.  Advent (those weeks) were known as Little Lent.  So Divine Arrival means forgiveness and thus peace with God, “Merry Christmas.”

            It sure beats Silver Bells, though that’s a good song too.   And concerning that Berlin/Copeland Christmas, stripped of a chance to offend anyone, Christmas’ date was truly picked to do just that.  By picking the same week as the winter solstice and Roman orgies of Saturnalia, Christmas stood as a story of such a humiliating birth it would almost bring tears.  “Yet in that dark street shineth/ The Everlasting Light/ The hopes and fears of all the years/Are met in Thee tonight.”  Christmas upended everything, beginning with Roman macho triumphalism all the way to hopeless legalism by Jewish authorities. And it was nothing that man would have devised.  “God is Great!” the Muslims say, but here was God who could be as small as an embryo in Mary.  Heralded by a heaven full of angels, yet leaving shepherds with a very concrete verifiable sign—baby wrapped in rags, lying in a manger which could only be found in one of those manure-filled cave-outcrops that shepherds use in the rainy winter months.  Don’t believe the story?  Ask the shepherds who were still alive when the gospels were written. Ask Mary or other witnesses. God came to the poorest, most reviled, which shows a God who won’t let go of even the worst and most pitiful of us.   While the Broadway version of Christmas deals in the sacarine imaginary, God came among us in truth and fact and the only way possible to bring eternal forgiveness with no help on our part.  Peace with God. Thus, Christmas is Merry indeed.

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